A Practical Guide To Selling Software
Building software is a serious endeavor, especially these days when developers are pricey by any measure and most spaces are already crowed with solutions. But let's say you've made it past the first hurdle of bringing your software to market and it provides unique value some how, great! now how do you sell it?
Traditionally SaaS (software as a service) sales are heavily driven by digital ads. That is, you pay to play. Having launched three SaaS products myself (some more successfully than others) I'd like to share some practical strategy I've learned over the years on how to launch a SaaS product.
I'll be approaching this largely from an independent or angle funded startup perspective, though much of this applies to VC funded startups as well.
Your Homepage Better Not Suck
When selling software, your website homepage is your store front and sales person all-in-one. In the world of digital marketing, converting visitors into paying customers is the only thing you should care about.
With under two seconds for a consumer to decide if you are a credible solution you need to have a simple, bold and direct call-to-action. Here are some examples I like:
You Need Web Traffic. Lots of It.
Your next immediate problem to solve is getting hoards of people to your website as cost effective as possible. In future posts we will talk about building a larger drag net to capture users, but here is where to start.
By far the most bang for your buck is Google's ad platform. Specifically, their lesser used VisualAds platform is gold for building brand awareness early on. An important aside, you will need to do extensive keyword research with a tool like Moz or SemRush prior to paying for ads to run an effective campaign.
When I was helping launch Folio Websites, in our very early 'pre-launch' days we were just running $500 a month on Google AdWords to refine our keywords and saw traffic jump from around 1,000 visitors per month to around 4,000 per month.
Then we started running Google VisualAds with an additional $500 of budget and our traffic went from around 4,000 unique visitors per month to over 7,500 per month. While this is around the same traffic from AdWords, we had over 100,000 impressions of our brand with our visual ads. Below is a look at this data and the ads we used.
Google Visual Banner Ad
Google Visual Sidebar Ad
Traffic Increase from December to July
December: No Ads / January: AdWords / July: VisualAds
Daily Traffic Increase by Adding VisualAds
While I won't go into detail in this post, a few other ways to drive early stage web traffic includes:
- guest blogging - Usually free, just takes time.
- media and news articles - Gold if you can land them, but hard as a young product.
- social media marketing (paid ads, paid posts, etc) - Takes time & money but important for brand credibility.
- blog every week (harder than it sounds) - Free and your road to organic traffic. Focus on writing really quality content around what people are searching (back to keyword research)
- invite others to blog on your site
- paid email blasts
- private ad networks - Targeted platforms like CarbonAds can be highly effective.
- comment on other popular blogs
Building A Conversion Funnel
Once you start growing your site traffic, it's time to really focus on conversion. For me, this is were branding really comes into play.
When we launched our new ads seen above, we also changed our home page to match the brand along with our on-boarding views, portions of our app and all our email marketing.
Why do all this? It's about trust. Remember, you have two seconds to capture someone. The more cohesive the customer experience the higher likely hood they will explore your product and convert.
This is also where landing pages come into play. Naturally, you will want to separate your customers into segments to run more targeted ads and direct them to more targeted landing pages to speak more directly to a particular audiences pain points.
Not everyone is going to convert into a sign up (spoiler alert: most won't), but, that doesn't mean you should waste your traffic. A great strategy to build your marketing pipeline is to offer a quick newsletter signup on your website which offers exclusive discounts so you can gather warm leads which are interested but not quite ready to buy.
Along with newsletters, offering a simple free PDF download of an industry white paper or other helpful 'how-to' documents (which should be lightly branded and have links back to your website) on most pages of your website will also provide a basket of leads when done properly.
Effortless On-boarding Is An Imperative
So you have traffic, a beautiful and effective home or landing page and a cohesive brand for the customer journey thus far. The next step is crafting a friction-free on-boarding process for customers.
The trick here is to give the user what they want immediately, which for software is pretty easy: let them touch, test-drive, trial or otherwise use your software as quickly as possible. For Folio we allowed users to immediately select a theme and then create an account by adding their email, password and phone number. Literally two-clicks and they are up and running.
This is really a continuation of step 3. Your goal for on-boarding isn't payment, it's qualifying hot leads and capturing their information. From this point, you can lure them in with automated marketing and have your sales team call and email them personally to close the sale.
You'd be amazed how many customers couldn't believe we would call them within a few minutes of signing up. It's something they don't experience with our competitors and in most cases this alone was enough for them to convert into a paying customer.
Measure. Analyze. Adjust. Repeat.
One thing is certain when launching a new product. Your assumptions will be wrong. Maybe not entirely, but certainly in part. That's why once you have your core sales funnel up and running you must measure what tactics are working. Make rapid, small adjustments and then measure again.
While you can go as deep into the data rabbit hole as you wish, it really comes back to growing web traffic, conversions and sales, everything else is just fluff.
Your #1 goal is to get more traffic. When this becomes significant to the level you deem then you shift your goal to conversions. Once you start getting sign-ups you shift your focus once again to getting paying customers and keeping them happy (along with measuring churn and how to improve your lifetime customer value.
Building Your Software Sales Team
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least give a soft plug on how to build out your team to accomplish what we just talked about. By necessity of cash upon launching your software product you will need to start shifting resources from development over to marketing and customer support.
Depending on the scope of your project, you may consider offshoring some of your developers for on-going development to reduce costs and put more of your budget toward marketing. Easter Staffing provides incredible backend and frontend developers along with UI/UX design talent at near 1/2 the going industry rates.
Furthermore, should you not have the experience or time to conduct your keyword research, build ad campaigns and continue to make refinements Eastern also offers dedicated SEO specialists who can assist.
And finally, when the time comes that you are having signups and need to convert more of them into paying customers or invest in managing support inquires, we also provide marketing assistants for lead generation and managing campaigns along with live chat and email agents.
I've personally built my three companies, PhotoUp, Folio and Vectto using these exact same systems and team structures. If you have any questions or need help, please reach out! I'd love to connect with you about your business needs and talk about how to grow your software sales.
Here is to your future success developing your SaaS product and growing a meaningful and profitable company.
Kristian is a serial entrepreneur and founder of PhotoUp, Vectto, Folio Websites and Eastern Staffing. He specializes in deploying global software teams and products. When not in the trenches with his team he can be found running or riding on the trails around beautiful Bend, Oregon.